Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle Or Re-Think
May 24, 2011
New Game, Same Goals -- Add Target Formatting
Urban stations, just like the rest of the formats, are being impacted by management that wants to reduce costs, re-use or recycle, rather than discard, and re-think current programming strategies to see how they can be improved. In keeping with that thinking, there is a new game called target formatting that's already quietly making a difference in a number of markets. Target formatting is a combination or series of little things that when done right, can create a sharp listener focus and make a huge difference. This is all part of what we're calling the "reduce, re-use, recycle or re-think precept."
Target formatting can mean the difference between a P1 and a P2. I call it the "new black music magic." One of the tricks or illusions involves changing the perception of our stations and occasionally stepping outside the format boundaries. The other trick is about increasing your audience share by scheduling the right crossover music at the right times.
For Urban Adult stations, it means playing some rap songs that are extremely familiar, such as crossover adult party songs. Those songs that would be a hit at any party. They're part of the new strategic thinking about music.
There has been a shift in the core of Urban radio's library over the past few years.
We've been moving away from some artists who have been found by everybody's research and overplayed There is a new theory that hip-hop is replacing rock with a younger male audience. It happens with every generation. In markets such as Chicago, Washington, Charleston, Atlanta, Baltimore and Birmingham, the latest ratings show that the Urban or Urban AC station is not only the format leader, but also the market leader.
If we've learned anything about market leaders in the last few years it is that in a market with the right proportionality level of African-Americans, a well-programmed Urban or Urban AC station can become the new market leader despite the competition from format-similar stations who usually have larger signals, better research and deeper pockets.
How do you combat these advantages? You combat them by offsetting their edges through the use of effective target formatting. It has to do with maintaining the proper balance between consistency and freshness. We can't hope to capture and keep an adult audience with nothing but oldies and ballads, even if they're the right oldies and ballads. There must be balance. Balance in tempo, demographic appeal and freshness. It's a proven fact that the Urban audiences are trendsetters, so sameness will not work over the long haul.
If you're going to move from being a strong alternative or P2 station to the favorite station, target formatting needs to be a part of the plan.
Hipness & Positioning
There is a hipness factor that is part of the target formatting process. The hipness factor must grow from "occasionally hip" to "always hip." The hipness factor should be delivered on a consistent basis -- in the liners, the website, the contests, the way the air personalities handle callers, etc. The hipness factor is very much like the difference between a bank shot and a slam-dunk. They both go in and the score is the same, but true fans of the game want to see a little style and swagger; this is what the hipness factor provides. It helps if you have an in-house production director who gets it, too.
Now, the hipness factor itself cannot repair or restore a floundering format. You still have to have the right music, and constantly adjust your rotations so that your station always sounds fresh. And you need the right positioning.
Positioning is a key part of target formatting. Here is where great copy that is hip and geared to the audience who is there to hear the music comes in. A positioning statement is a like a promise to your target audience -- one which you can never violate if you expect to occupy mind share. Occupying mind share can translate directly into higher numbers. These positioning statements should offer a unique benefit to the listener, a point of reference, not just "#1 for hip-hop and R&B." That statement, like the music it surrounds, has to be changed updated and produced with different approaches for it to continue to be effective.
Make Your Own Hits
Sometimes you may have to disregard a series of music test scores and follow your gut. Keep in mind, just because a test group said that a song is familiar doesn't mean they want to hear it over and over. At the other extreme is the notion that songs can be put into a power rotation out of the box. What about the familiarity precept that says that listeners want to hear songs and artists that they recognize? That answer is they still have to be balanced properly.
Too much unfamiliar music sends the wrong message to the target audience. Who are they? They are people listening to traditional Urban and Urban AC stations. When you put a new jam in a power stack on a station that has high cume, you can, by simply playing that song every four hours, make it familiar to your audience. Sometimes this is what you need to do. You have to make your own hits. Summer is a great time to do this. You still introduce new music first on the night show and then let it spread to other dayparts.
By making your own hits and target formatting, you accomplish two very important things. You maintain freshness and flavor. And you will pick up new summer cume that becomes attracted to your station.
Longer Listening Spans And Flow
As we begin to ramp up for the upcoming summer we need to look at how we can hustle our homies into listening longer. Great content and flow can make a big difference even with a baby budget. Many smart managers believe the smartest way to grow sales is to find new customers. It's true and what is also true is that the best way to capture new cume is to build a better on-air product. Some think it's better to protect what they've got, but the best way to do that is by presenting the best possible product on the air. All the elements, including the music, must interact and contribute.
Radio in 2011, regardless of format, is arguably not the first choice among some younger demos for getting new music and lifestyle information. So the question becomes, are we in danger of losing the ears of Generation X or Y or Jones? And if so, how do we get them back?
The answer is that we must focus on the format and stay attentive. There have always been fragmentations in the Urban format of disposable time whether it was television, cable, Internet, iPods, satellite radio, books or movies.
The current subscription models, even as they continue to gain in penetration, still have relatively small audience caps, relative to the reach of terrestrial radio. Up until now Urban radio has always successfully co-existed with self-programmed entertainment devices. Now we've got to remember that we can't execute our way to excellence without a blueprint.
Part of that blueprint or plan or format focus should be on attracting those Hispanic listeners who like Urban jams. America's Hispanic population is now over 42 million. Hispanic origin and age figures released recently by the Census Bureau include Hispanics who may be of any race and accounted for about one half of the national population growth. This is no longer an "emerging" consumer group.
Working-age Hispanic adults (18-54 year-olds) totaled 184 million nationally. Some 63% were in that age range. The proportion who was members of this age group ranged from 66% for Asians to 61% for blacks and Hispanics. These heavily weighted Hispanic listeners can make a huge difference in your station's overall numbers.
Hispanic listening audiences will continue to grow, but you can't paint the marketplace with a single brushstroke. Urban sales departments can show their clients the power of Hispanic shoppers and ways to market to them as part of their overall business strategy.
Now is the time to follow up on your hunches or the results of your latest perceptual studies. If you think your late-night jock might do better in middays and the research seems to support that theory, now is the time to make that move. It's all part of effective daypart indexing. This is a comparative technique developed by Arbitron to assist programmers to determine what dayparts are helping the station and which ones are not.
Your station's total share of audience is actually made up of multiple shares for each daypart. In other words, averages of morning drive, middays, afternoon drive, evenings and overnights. By creating an index that compares each daypart to the overall average, you can now see which time periods are under or over-performing ... and then make adjustments.
Another factor to consider in daypart indexing is daypart relativity for each format
In other words, every format has its uniquenesses and anticipated performance curves. For example, middays on some mainstream Urban stations are often lower than other dayparts. The reason is that those indexes often favor stations such as Urban adult stations that target at-work listeners. This disparity is inherent to the format itself and should not be cause for concern.
Keep in mind daypart indexing is a great equalizer of information and a good way to look at your at your station and see what's pushing you forward and what may be holding you back. It also provides a standard point of comparison that brings each daypart's contribution into sharp focus.
Creating Listener Benefits & Promoting Ahead
Building great ratings depends on being able to consistently promote ahead to improve flow, extend TSL and even build quarter-hours. This is absolutely imperative under PPM measurement. You should never go into a stopset without teasing ahead. Giving listeners something to anticipate creates aggressive momentum and flow.
You increase TSL by constantly selling listener benefits. Doing this makes the show and the station more interesting and helps to create longer listening spans. One method I really like is one in which you have live liners that sell one of the station's unique benefits several times an hour. This aids listeners to better use the station and gives them more reason to listen later in the hour and into the next day part.
Finally, going forward, being able to reduce, re-use, recycle or rethink can be an essential part of Urban radio's greatest strengths. A major part of that still lies with its on-air performers' execution. The toughest job is finding and maintaining them. Time spent strengthening your weaknesses is better than delegating tasks to others whose strength is your weakness.